North Korea fired missiles into sea, says South Korea, putting nuclear talks in doubt

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North Korea fired at least two projectiles early on Thursday from an area near Wonsan, on North Korea's eastern coast, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
The missiles launched from near Wonsan flew about 430km and reached an altitude of 50km before falling into the East Sea, said an official at South Korea’s Defence Ministry. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - North Korea fired two short-range missiles early on Thursday (July 25) from its eastern coast, South Korea's military said, the first missile test since leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump agreed to revive stalled denuclearisation talks.

North Korea launched the missiles from the coastal city of Wonsan with one flying about 430km and the other 690km out over the sea. They both reached an altitude of 50km before splashing down, an official at South Korea's Defence Ministry told Reuters.

The second, longer-range missile appeared to be a new design, but a detailed analysis was being done to verify that, the official said.

The firing of ballistic missiles would cast new doubts on efforts to restart denuclearisation talks after Mr Trump and Mr Kim met at the demilitarised zone (DMZ) at the end of June.

The White House, Pentagon and US State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A senior US administration official said according to initial information, at least one short-range projectile was fired from North Korea. The official added that further analysis is under way.

South Korea had detected related signs prior to the launch and was conducting a detailed analysis with the US, the presidential Blue House said in a statement.

South Korea's Defence Ministry urged the North to stop acts that are unhelpful for easing tension, saying the latest test posed a military threat.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the test had no immediate impact on Japan's security, according to Kyodo News.

"We have confirmed that the situation is not one that impacts our country's national security. Going forward, we will work closely with the United States," Mr Abe was quoted as telling reporters in a town west of Tokyo, where he is vacationing.

Mr Trump's national security adviser John Bolton, who has taken a hard line towards North Korea, made no mention of the launches in a tweet on Thursday morning after a visit to South Korea, referring only to "productive meetings" with South Korean officials on regional security and building a stronger alliance.

After Mr Trump and Mr Kim met in the DMZ, the United States and North Korea vowed to soon hold a new round of working-level talks, but Pyongyang has since sharply criticised upcoming joint military drills by US and South Korean troops.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said on Thursday ambassador to the United States Cho Yoon-je told reporters that Washington has offered to discuss the time and location of such talks but there was no response from Pyongyang yet.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho were widely expected to meet on the sidelines of an Asean security forum in Bangkok next week, but Yonhap New Agency , citing an unidentified person, reported that the latter would not be attending the meeting.

North Korea's Foreign Ministry said earlier this month that Washington's pattern of "unilaterally reneging on its commitments" by holding military exercises with South Korea was leading Pyongyang to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

"North Korea is clearly upset that the US and South Korea are conducting joint military exercises," said Mr Harry Kazianis of Washington's Centre for the National Interest. "We should not be shocked by this move and, in fact, we should have seen it coming."

North Korea's last weapons testing in May included short-range missiles as well as smaller rockets.

At the time, Mr Kim oversaw the first flight of a previously untested weapon - a relatively small, fast missile that experts believe will be easier to hide, launch and manoeuvre in flight.

On Tuesday, state news agency KCNA reported that Mr Kim inspected a large, newly built submarine, accompanied by missile programme leaders.

It potentially signalled continued development of a submarine-launched ballistic missile programme. Denuclearisation talks between North Korea and the United States have stalled after a second summit between Mr Trump and Mr Kim in Vietnam in February broke down.

Mr Trump has repeatedly stressed his good relationship with Mr Kim and is keen for a big foreign policy win as he campaigns for re-election in 2020.

When Mr Trump and Mr Kim met last month, he said they had agreed to resume working-level talks stalled since their failed summit in Hanoi in February.

On Monday, Mr Trump stressed North Korea's freeze in testing of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, which has been in place since 2017, and positive recent exchanges.

"There was a little correspondence recently," he said. "We had very positive correspondence with North Korea. Again there's no nuclear testing, there's no missile testing, there's no nothing."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week said the State Department had "a number of conversations with the North Koreans" and he hoped the talks with North Korea would begin soon.​

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